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What is a ground fault interrupter (GFI) and its benefits?

Posted on: January 24, 2013

You’ve probably noticed some electrical outlets throughout your home that don’t look like other outlets. They’re similar, but they also have “test” and “reset” buttons. These are known as Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFI). There are two reasons why they’ve become so popular: they save lives and they’re inexpensive. Once you understand how they work and their safety benefits, you’ll see why it’s a good idea to have these outlets in your home.

Circuit Breakers and Safety

A GFI receptacle can break a circuit, but it’s not a circuit breaker. A circuit breaker measures the current being used by a circuit. If that current exceeds a set rating, the breaker cuts off the power. The time it takes for that to happen is only a few fractions of a second, but it’s still too long if you’re at the end of the circuit.

Ground Fault Interrupters and Safety

GFIs use a different principal. They measure the current coming in and being returned on a circuit. As long as the current coming in and going out are the same, the circuit remains open. If the amounts differ, the outlet trips and breaks the circuit. Unlike a circuit breaker, it doesn’t wait for a set amperage before tripping. If the amounts vary by as few as six microamps (6/1000), the circuit is instantly broken. If you accidentally touch a short-circuiting appliance or a frayed cord, a GFI will cut off the current to your body before it reaches lethal levels.

Other Benefits of GFIs

Aside from obvious personal safety benefits, they can also help prevent damage to your home and appliances. They can instantly cut off power to a short-circuiting appliance, preventing overheating and fires. If any appliances or electronics develop an internal short, the power will be severed before serious damage occurs. A loose wire could cause extensive damage to delicate electronic components—with a GFI, the circuit will break before serious damage occurs.

GFI outlets are absolutely necessary in wet areas of your home—but they’re also a good idea throughout the rest of your home. For a very small increase in price, you get a huge increase in safety and protection. If you’d like to add GFIs to your home, or have questions about your existing GFI outlets, contact us to schedule a consultation.

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